When Heather O’Neill planted roses, she didn’t ex­pect new friends to grow around her.

ELLE (Canada) - - Slug -

HOW STYLE SET­TER OLIVIA PALERMO UP­GRADES HER TRAVEL “I only fly Ger­man or Swiss air­lines, never Amer­i­can—I pre­fer Ger­man ef­fi­ciency! And I love Ri­mowa suit­cases; they make my life so much eas­ier. I have a whole sys­tem with a place for ev­ery­thing: a Smyth­son bag for my carry-on and one for all

my charg­ers. And Zi­plocs—I can’t live with­out Zi­ploc bags.”


had only lived in big build­ings be­fore I moved into a ground-floor apart­ment in an old red-brick triplex with a front yard some years ago. I didn’t get to know any of my new neigh­bours. They never made eye con­tact, and I never spoke to any of them.

I was a sin­gle mother, and I never had free time on my hands. When spring came, I sim­ply ig­nored the gar­den. It did its own thing. It was like an imag­i­na­tive girl who sat with a jour­nal and a black pen doo­dling weeds and wild­flow­ers every­where.

Then one day I re­ceived a let­ter from the city say­ing I would be fined if I didn’t clean up my gar­den: The weeds were too high and it was an eye­sore. I was shocked. How had my daugh­ter and I be­come like Big and Lit­tle Edie? How had we al­lowed our apart­ment to go the way of Grey Gar­dens?

I im­me­di­ately set to work rip­ping up all the weeds. When I was done, the area was a sad small stretch of dirt. For the first time, I no­ticed how ev­ery­one else on the block had made hum­ble ef­forts to liven their gar­dens up. In one, there were gnomes sur­rounded by pur­ple pan­sies. In an­other, there was a lit­tle grotto with the Vir­gin Mary sur­rounded by a climb­ing bush with yel­low flow­ers. My neigh­bours’ charm­ing gar­dens in­vited passersby to stop and get to know a lit­tle some­thing about their imag­i­na­tion and maybe say hello. I re­al­ized that my gar­den full of weeds sent the mes­sage that I was not the type of per­son with whom you could en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion. My yard was mak­ing me come across as down­right anti-so­cial.

I went to the mar­ket and got my­self some rose bushes. Roses were the flow­ers I was most fa­mil­iar with; they bor­dered the pages of old fairy-tale books I read when I was a lit­tle girl. I planted far too many bushes for the space, and they went wild. One of them at­tacked the post­man. They would reach down and try to grab the keys out of the hands of people lock­ing their bikes to the fence. I had to buy metal poles and twist-ties to cor­ral them.

But even in their worst mo­ments of be­ing out of con­trol and ag­gres­sive and badly be­haved, the roses were still beau­ti­ful. And ev­ery­body could see that I was try­ing. A mid­dle-aged man wear­ing a bur­gundy suit and a green tie paused and com­pli­mented the flow­ers. An­other man stopped his elec­tric wheel­chair to look at the gar­den and nod at me. A woman started hap­pily talk­ing to me in Por­tuguese, point­ing at the roses. A child grabbed the bars of the fence like a pris­oner and stared at the statue of a rab­bit I’d stuck in the cen­tre of the gar­den. One morn­ing the land­lord showed up with some brightor­ange mulch, which he spread over the ground around the roots of the plants. “Shh,” I heard him say­ing to a neigh­bour. “Heather is go­ing to be so happy when she wakes up.” I came home one af­ter­noon to find the man next door wa­ter­ing my roses.

My world was sud­denly filled with neigh­bours, not strangers. From then on, ev­ery­one started say­ing hello to me. We all live these ab­surd lives on this ab­surd planet—the least we can do is try to make it a lit­tle more pleas­ant for our­selves and, in turn, a friend­lier place for those around us.

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